Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hallowe'en Party

by Agatha Christie

A Hercule Poirot mystery.  A young girl is drowned in the apple-bobbing bucket at a Halloween party after announcing that she had witnessed a murder.  Poirot investigates and learns that the girl was a habitual liar, but he uncovered a series of crimes and cover-ups in the small town as well.  Soon, Poirot is fitting everything together, but not before the killer strikes again.

This is a fantastic work by a master.  I’d never read a Christie mystery before, but it’s clear she’s an old hand by the time she wrote this one, 1969.  There are a couple of bits that clang awkwardly (repeated comments about the habits of the young and the state of criminal psychiatry), but of course, the book is a product of the era.  In terms of the mystery itself, Christie is eminently fair with the clues, but no less skilled with the red herrings.  The final scenes are done particularly well, with the suspense high and filler kept to a minimum, without any extraneous exposition.

five stars

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned

by Walter Mosley

Socrates Fortlow, released from prison after 27 years for murder, tries to live with honor in Watts, without giving in to his murderous rage.  This is a collection of stories that originally appeared elsewhere, but interwoven with new material.  The immensely strong, guilt-ridden Socrates helps rid the neighborhood of a killer, takes in a young boy, convinces a man to stay with his wife, and insists on his rights when dealing with authority like the grocery store where he applies for a job.

It’s an amazing book, strong and blunt yet subtle.  Socrates is an all-too-human character: deeply flawed, but just trying to make his way in a world where the odds are stacked against him and to do the right thing.  He’s more than just a repentant man dealing out rough justice; he represents the anger and frustration inner-city blacks face dealing with crime, drugs, gangs, and absent fathers.  This is gritty and thought-provoking reading.